Recently I had a chance conversation with another survivor of abuse. We were talking about the lasting effects of abuse and she was sharing with me how things she was told by her abuser have stuck with her over the years.
I think we all know people just like her. People who were told at a young age that they were useless, unlovable, or bad, and have had that become the image they have of themselves. It can be easy for those of us with friends or loved ones with this kind of self image to wonder why they can’t see all the great things we see about them, but we also have to admit that it goes deeper than that.
First off, it’s simply human nature for negative comments to stick with us longer. Just think about how many times you can tell your spouse that they are attractive, yet it’s the one critical comment they heard from someone else that sticks with them. Or how many people can congratulate you on a job well done, but it’s the one critique that affects your overall image of yourself. On top of that, survivors are also dealing with what happened to them and why. Abusers are master manipulators. They know which insecurities to pounce on, and how to use those to control their victims. Most of all they know that they can exploit our natural need to make sense oh what is happening. It’s already quite tempting to assume that what is happening to us is due to there being something deficient about ourselves, when someone is there to confirm that we somehow deserved it, it’s almost impossible not to believe it.
Of course, since reaching a point where we are less affected by external messages can be a lifelong challenge, we should all just be good to each other, no? There are quite enough negative messages in the daily lives of most people, we don’t need to add more when we should be doing our best to counteract them instead. A positive, encouraging, word is not only more pleasant, it’s so rare that we can easily become someone who stands out among the crowd by being willing to share it.
For me, I’m glad to have gotten yet another reminder to be a source of encouragement to anyone. You never know what kind of messages those around you every day are trying to overcome. I’d rather be helping them do that than not.